Caramel Peanut Popcorn Snack Mix

11 Jan

Hi!

Well, I’ve moved everything over to WordPress since my blog disappeared from Blogger, and I like this much better so I think I’ll stay.

Lots of people on my FaceBook page have been asking for my “caramel corn” recipe, so I’m posting it here for anyone who wants a really good, satisfying and fun-to-eat snack.  Actually, unlike most of my recipes posted here, I found somewhere and tried it, so it’s become one of my favorites.  I hope it will become one of yours, too.

Curl up with–hopefully–a warm fireplace, a good book or good DVD, and someone you love, and make an afternoon of it. It’s best if you can request a rainy or snowy day to top it all off to perfection, but even with bright sunshine, this snack is delicious! Try it and see!

CARAMEL PEANUT POPCORN SNACK MIX

15-16 cups popped popcorn (about ¾ cup kernels)

1 cup + 2 Tbsps firmly packed dark brown sugar

½ cup butter

½ cup dark corn syrup

¼ tsp salt, preferably kosher

1 cup lightly toasted dry-roasted peanuts

Waxed paper

1 (10.5 oz) package candy-coated peanut-butter

pieces (such as Reeses Pieces)

 

Preheat oven to 325°F. Spread popcorn on a lightly cooking sprayed–(don’t use olive oil!) heavy duty aluminum foil-lined 13” X18” pan. Stir together brown sugar and next 3 ingredients in a small saucepan over medium-low heat; bring to a simmer, and simmer 1 minute, stirring constantly. Pour this over the popcorn and stir gently to coat it all as evenly as possible.

Bake at 325°F for 25 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Add the peanuts during the last 5 minutes. Remove pan from oven, and spread contents on lightly-greased (with cooking spray) waxed paper. Cool completely (about 20 minutes.) Break apart large pieces and stir in the candy pieces. Store in an airtight container up to 1 week. (As if it would last a week!)

Note: You can pop the kernels without oil in the microwave. Place ¼ cup kernels in a 2 ½ qt. microwave-safe bowl. Completely cover the bowl top with a microwave-safe plate. (Careful—it will be hot!) Cook at HIGH for 3-4 minutes or until kernels have popped. Repeat with remaining kernels.
MAKES about 17 ½ cups. HANDS ON: 30 minutes. TOTAL: 50 minutes.

30 Aug

 

A is for Asparagus

This year, we had an uncommon surprise—our asparagus actually came up!  Now if that sounds kind of like,  ‘So what?’ let me explain that I’ve been waiting to plant and grow asparagus for the past forty years, but (while my husband and I grew children and grandchildren, and friends, colleagues, houses and businesses in all the many places we have lived) we never lived in one place long enough to grow asparagus.

We planted them anyway.  Worked the soil and enriched it, make sure it had the correct pH—slightly alkaline, about an 8–(as you’ve heard me say repeatedly, gardening is, after all,  not at all about the plants—it’s about the soil) and carefully put down the asparagus roots; but then, we moved again, and the asparagus, like all our many fruit trees and bramble bushes, as well as the rose bushes and perennials we planted, passed to someone else.  It’s nice to know someone, anyone, is enjoying the fruits of our labor.

Welcome as the gift of all this planting-without-reaping was, to give as well as to receive, I wanted one day to eat of our own bounty, to put up applesauc and pearse, to make apple butter for sandwiches and apple ketchup for pork roasts, to gather our own black- blue- and rasp-berries, to dry our own meaty tomatoes, and at last, to cut our asparagus and prepare them fresh, three minutes from the good earth.

Well, this year, we began.  I put in 24 healthy young plants, and less than a week later, up came the tiny, delicate fronds, no bigger than a pencil lead, but unmistakably asparagus.  What a joy!  Only two more years, three at the most, and we can cut some for the table!

Asparagus is a member of the fern family, and the asparagus that grace our Easter or Passover tables are simply the buds of these same fern fronds.  In fact, some say that the Latin word for ‘sprinkle’, as in the phrase “Asperges me, Domine,” (“Sprinkle me, Lord, with Hyssop—“) used in Catholic worship, comes from the plant name; or that the word comes from the use of that plant for sprinkling.  Who knows?  All I know is, whenever the priest goes by sprinkling us with Holy Water and chanting, “Asperges me, Domine,” I get almost as hungry for asparagus as I do for a blessing.  I said, almost.

Anyway, asparagus starts small.  Our first sprouts were the size of a wooden pencil lead.  In fact, for the first two or three years, the gardener can’t collect any asparagus at all, but must allow the plant to gain strength and breadth; first so that the plants will be suitable for the table, but also to protect the plants themselves.

They are living creatures, even though they are not animals or humans; so as much as is possible, we should be good to them; and in return, we can count on their contributing delicious variety to our dinners, and healthy phytochemicals and minerals to our diets.

I meet a lot of people who tell me, “I don’t know how to grow things.  Is it hard?”  No, it’s not, not if you start off right.  As I keep saying– and will keep saying, so expect it– gardening is all about the soil, rather than the plants.  You can buy the most expensive plants you like, and tuck them into the ground and water them like mad, but unless you’ve properly prepared your soil, your plants are doomed.

For example, here in North Texas where I live, both our soil and our rain are alkaline.  So unless you’re willing to plant xeriscape plants—that is, plants that have been living here since Demosthenes expounded on the rocky shores of Greece–you’d better be ready to add a whole heck of a lot of peat moss and at least one big bag of expanded shale to every one of your 4’ X 8’ garden beds.

In places where the soil is sour and acid, you will need to lime your soil.  When we lived in a place like that, I used to crush my eggshells and add them to the soil wherever I wanted to grow bulbs (tulips, daffodils, crocus, etc.)  I found that it helped immeasurably.  Lime (oyster and clamshells, limes itself, and eggshells) sweetens acid soil, while expanded shale, peat moss, pine needles and coffee grounds tone down the sweetness of alkaline soil, making it more acidic.  Tea or opened tea bags are good, too, but you can get free coffee grounds from the kindly Starbucks folks, simply for the asking, so it’s smart to go that route.

What’s important to understand is that plants can only take up nutrients from the soil if that soil is at the proper pH.  If it’s too acidic, some plants will wither and die; if too alkaline, others will shrivel and yellow and die.  But if the soil is at the proper pH, and you plant all the plants who like the same pH, your whole bed will love you, and thrive like the dickens.

So what do we want here?

What we want, what every avid gardener wants, is a beautiful neutral 7 on the acid-alkaline scale.  Of course, gardenias, lilacs, blueberries, azaleas, and many other plants prefer a slightly more acid soil, while others, like lilies, asparagus, and numerous other beauties prefer a slightly alkaline soil.  What to do, what to do?

The first thing to do is to test your soil.  One way is to take 1 Tbsp. samples from several places in your garden and put them in a canning jar or clean jelly jar.  Add fresh water to the top and stir thoroughly.  Then, using your soil test kit, follow the directions for determining just what your soil needs for optimum performance.

Keep your soil deeply dug, evenly moist and well-augmented with vermiculite, compost (your best friend!), greensand, and whatever other local amendments your soil needs to reach that ideal PH7.   You’ll be glad you did!  And once you’ve grown your beautiful asparagus (and of course, haven’t cut any until they’re the size around of a man’s thumb), here’s a quick and easy way to serve them up!

 

Braised Asparagus

1 # fresh asparagus

½ stick of butter or the equivalent in margarine, ghi

or other substitute

¾ tsp dried or 1-½ tsp fresh minced tarragon OR

¾ tsp dried or 1-½ tsp fresh minced marjoram

Prep:

Rinse the asparagus briefly under cold water, pat dry.  Snap the stalks where they break naturally when you bend the asparagus in half.  Reserve the lower stalks, cutting off the dry end with a sharp knife, and slicing into 1” pieces.  Place in a pot covered with water and set on medium heat somewhere on the back of the stove.  This is for later.

Or, if you like, you can peel the bottoms of the asparagus stalks with a veggie peeler, laying them flat on a cutting board and simply sliding the peeler along from halfway the top to the bottom.  I never do, unless I’m dealing with old store—bought veggies that have been sitting around for a while.  Do whatever works for you about this.

Cook:

Slice the asparagus tops on a slant, making pieces about 2” long, and reserve.  In a wok or large frying pan, heat the butter/margarine/ghi until it’s melted and smells wonderful.  Add the tarragon or marjoram and warm it until the essential oils are released, and you can smell that lovely fragrance as well.  (Remember, we eat with all our senses, so the nose counts, too.)  Add the sliced asparagus tops and stir-fry until they are crisp-tender.  This is wonderful served with baked chicken, creamed onions and a nice light rice pilaf.  Also great in home-made Chinese food.  Something luscious goes well as a dessert.  I’d use ‘Mudgie’s Lemon Pie”* if I were you.

Oh, about the asparagus bottoms you’ve been boiling: put them through your hand-cranked food mill and save the soft pale-green material that squeezes through.  The fibers go in your compost bucket.  Waste nothing.

Boil down your asparagus water to 1 quart and add the soft pale green stuff from the food mill.  Be careful not to let it stick to the bottom.  If it tries, turn down your fire.  That’ll teach the little dickens.  Mix well and freeze or reserve in the fridge.  You should have a thickened, cloudy, pale green liquid.  Good.

Using a simple white sauce recipe (2-3 T butter, 1 1/2 T white flour, sauté until the flour loses it’s sheen, whisk in your liquids, beginning with the milk; that’s it), the asparagus-water mixture, a little whole milk, about ½ c white wine* (added carefully) and whatever leftover segments of cooked asparagus you may have, you have all the ingredients for a scrumptious cream of asparagus soup to start off your next meal, or for a lovely lunch with a shrimp salad and whipped gelatin dessert.  Conversely, forget the salad and add the little cocktail-sized shrimp right into the soup plates.  Brioche or croissants are good with this, or 1” croutons quickly fried in a little herb-flavored butter go prettily on top of the soup for crunch.  Alternatively, so does a dollop of sour cream.  Make sure your herbs all go well together, such as tarragon/parsley/ chives.

Sage, oregano, basil and paprika are out.  So is dill.

Again, make sure you don’t boil the soup once the wine is added, or it may curdle.

Enjoy that luncheon.

*See ‘The Big Family Cookbook’ coming soon to Nook and Amazon, and at http://www.whitebirdpublications.com.  Look for it!

 

 

 

Here’s the gue…

29 Jul

Here’s the guest blog post I promised you!  An article by a friend, Paul Callaghan, from New Zealand, whose book, “Organic Gardening in Small Spaces” is a real joy for those of us who have little space in which to garden.  But don’t let me take all his ‘face time’–listen to what he has to say about organic gardening, straight from the man himself!

 

Why Grow Organic Food?

 

Organic growing has moved in circles. Only a few years ago almost all horticulture and agriculture was organic without anyone actually naming it as such. It was just growing. Then in the early part of the twentieth century corporate interests began to flood the market with various chemicals to improve the yield of crops.

From the 1930s on some people became concerned about the costs associated with chemically enhanced growing, and not just the financial ones. More often than not such people were labelled as freaks and primitives. Indeed, here in New Zealand one of the first organic chain stores was named Cranks as a kind of joke against that impression.

In the last few years, as environmental concerns have grown, organic growing has become more mainstream, and although it is still only a small part of the world’s food production, it is an increasing proportion.

For me the journey towards organic growing began with my health. I had problems with my digestion and realised that I needed to eat healthier food. Buying lots of fruit and vegetables from the local supermarket was my first idea. However, I soon realised that much of the produce from there had little or no taste, although it looked great and kept “fresh” for quite a while. I began to yearn for the taste of tomatoes like my dad grew when I was a kid. I started to buy organic produce. But these days I have three kids of my own and I just can’t afford to pay premium prices for everything I eat. Growing my own became the only option.

Other people tell me that they have other reasons for choosing to grow organic. Some feel that they do not want to contribute to an economic system which exploits both people and the environment. Some are concerned with the toxic effects of the chemicals with which much of our food is laced. Some just want a measure of independence in an increasingly dependent world.

There is one thing that people who begin to grow their own food using organic methods rarely mention but to me seems at least as important as any of the health, environmental or socio-political reasons. It’s fun!

There is a deep satisfaction in watching your kids fancy a snack and wander out to the strawberry plants to help themselves. Serving up a fresh salad to your friends and being told that your lettuce, tomato, cucumber and onions are delicious makes you smile. If you have prepared the soil, planted the seed, fought the slugs in hand to slime combat and lovingly watered and fed your salad there is a real sense of achievement.

We live in a world of increasing stress. Putting your hands in the soil can help. Eating better and cheaper food while reducing your carbon footprint makes you feel good. When you can think in terms of food yards instead of food miles the environment benefits. When you recycle your food scraps and your plastic, metal and glass containers, your rubbish removal costs drop. There’s less stress on your wallet. And that means less stress for you.

It’s not always easy. And you will make mistakes. But you can also enjoy the fruits of your labours.

 

Hello world!

25 Apr

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